How To Make Midi Drums Sound Real
I've been challenged in the last 19 months to create music VERY fast for video projects. I created a video showing the process I've been using to get better drums sounds using stock logic drum tones. I prefer recording drums with a real drummer however this has been a fantastic challenge in its own right.
P.S. If it is annoying for me to post videos in the forum I have no problem removing them:) These are the things in music that are exciting for me so I thought I would share it.
excellent video on midi drums, Paul. You are more than welcome to post your videos here. I've been doing midi drums since the 80's and I will confirm that what you are doing here, is likely the best kept secret in pop music. Thank you for sharing this.
Thanks so much for the feedback! I used to play live shows along with an Alesis SR16 drum machine in the mid 90's and then I only used live drums until I got into samples in the mid 2000's. The last 18 months have been my first "trip back" to Midi only in more than 25 years. Midi samples have come so far.
I appreciate your input on mixing midi samples. I'd love to hear some of your midi drums and how you achieved the tones.
Hey Paul, its a pleasure discussing drum programming as its my favourite topic in pro audio and live music.
I used to talk about midi drum programming here on RO back around 2000 (what you are doing now) but many of the old recordist shunned me for this so I stopped sharing my dirty little secrets.
Unfortunately (disbelievers) despise the concept as they think its cheating and disbelieve midi drums could ever sound real. It seems old school drummers and engineers would rather continue to struggle trying to get big drums the old school way which is an impossible struggle in my opinion as there is nothing bigger sounding than drum samples combined with real in my opinion. Disbelievers usually form their opinions and compare midi drums to hip hop lol.
Your video is excellent/ undeniable truth and is essential knowledge for anyone wanting to compete in the music business today. This is a fact.
I'm a big fan of the Akai MPC's and I currently own the MPC X. The MPC X is awesome for programming ITB. Its a great tool (instrument) for anyone that wants to write music in a studio that doesn't have a drum room. You can program or use it to combine samples like you are doing. The Akai MPC is hands down the best midi drum controller ever. I'm anticipating upgrading to the next generation of MPC.
Sharing my music isn't possible now as I've sold off most of my gear due to a terrible divorce some years back and have never been able to rebuild my studio or get motivated to do this again. My ex stole my music to hurt me, the courts can't help me and its not worth the fight anymore).
My work was mostly live as I'm a musician more than I was ever a recordist. Mixing and collaborating was where I was headed before the divorce.
My first gig as a paid pop rock band using midi drums was in fact not far from your homeland (the Londondary in Edmonton).
Before I lost by studio I was using two Bricasti reverbs with sampled drums to emulate rooms with samples. I think you have a fantastic handle on this, your room sounds awesome and your skills are top notch.
Phase seems to be the biggest enemy with drums and you clearly have this under control!
That is an awesome reply. I totally get what you mean about old school drummers being against it. I never really discussed how I mixed with drummers to avoid the whole conversation. When I did have to have the conversation I would show them some of the old AC/DC drums which clearly had a floor tom mixed in with snare. My saying is "its not cheating if you win". I forget who I stole that from:)
I love that you mentioned phase being an issue. For a long time I would augment with samples of drums with Drumagog. The phase would drive me nuts. As plugins like drum leveler and drumatom came out I found I could get the same results using acoustic drums and it eliminated the phase issues. For years I then mixed with out samples or very sparingly. I did not shy away from samples because an idealogical point of view. It simply became faster for me to use other tools. I would have to spend so much time going hit by hit eliminating phase with samples. Sometimes there were no problems and other times it was brutal.
I spent a lot of time experimenting with Logic and the phase problems inherent in the program. I've come up with many work arounds and sometimes I still have phase issues with logic itself.
Would you go back to using bricasti reverbs again or would you use plugins? I myself sold all my old lexicon stuff and use plugins now. (Micheal Brauer bought my PCM 70). That gear taught me what reverbs should sound like though.
In general my philosophy has become to either go all in acoustic drums or all in Midi for a track. I mix the two carefully....usually I out smart myself.
I will have to check out the AKAI stuff you mentioned.
I'll try and find my most recent demo of me using the MPC and post it here.
In all the equipment I've used, the Bricasti M7 is the best sounding reverb I have used. Many plugin reverb sound good too but nothing as true like the hardware version of the M7. But I suspect you can achieve this in a plugin too as the Bricasti is digital so...
If needed, I would use one M7 for creating drum sounds and put the second one on the 2 bus to create the room for all the music to sit in. The Bricasti M7 in analog does not have any noticeable phase issues so my idea there was to create the studio/room you wanted all the music to be in. I do not believe in stacking reverbs. I always try and produce music from an audience listening perspective. This is often a difficult thing to do, especially when we have so many toys to play with. Keeping things simple is hard to do but it seems to be what usually sounds best at the end of the day.
My general concept to avoid phase issues was using one reverb for an entire mix that was in stereo on the master bus.
When mixing most peoples music (more often then not) I would strip out the room and replace it with the Bricasti. I would replace the drums with sample and if the mix had a decent room track, I would use the room mix or replace that too. I mix and check everything in Mono, rest my ears every 10 minutes or so which seemed to help.
Keep in mind that my workflow as a mixer generally involved fixing crappy mixes full of bad reverbs and bad phase. Bad reverbs and bad phase issues are pretty much where the money in a mix is. If the band doesn't think you are messing with their sound, good samples and a great reverb become the biggest asset ever.
That makes a lot of sense to me. There are certain things that hardware, like the M7, just does better. If I am doing a mix and I need to repair something, putting what ever source through my console and patch bay often end up with a better sound in a couple of minutes compared to an hour of fiddling with plugins.
As you know, most recordings mix better when they have less phase and when everything has (or sounds like) it's been tracked in the same room at the same time together (less bleed, less variations of different types of reverb fighting in the mix).
The Bricasti is an excellent stereo reverb that can help make a clean recording sound real. Clean" meaning, recordings that don't have various reverbs causing all sorts out of sync reverberations and comb filtering/phase shifting happening etc etc.
All the money I spent on "world class gear lol" therefore didn't matter one bit if the music I was trying to mix had stacked reverb/ phase fighting.
After investing all that time and money in equipment, it all came down to how I was going to strip out and replace phase so stereo recording sounded like it was tracked in the same space at the same time.
The M7 was the best tool for this. Midi and replacement tools help make music sound bigger. The rest of the gear I used to improve sound became more a waste of money than it was useful.
That is very insightful. To be honest I've never really looked at the phase relationship of reverb in this level of detail. I love this info. I don't stack reverbs often but I never really considered why it sounded "wrong" to me.
I seem to remember you had a bunch of high amp SPL gear that you loved. I have a bunch of gear that I am not using right now but I don't have the heart to part with it .....yet. I realized some years ago that my case for things like mics was mostly because I was bored with what I had. After that realization I got rid of a ton of mics and my recordings sounded better as a result. Less to think about and be distracted by.
Liquid Sonics has the 7th heaven plugin which is actual impulses from the M7 and put into the form of a convolution reverb. They also have another plugin with some M7 impulses. While it’s probably not identical to the M7 hardware, it’s a very good plugin that excels in room sounds, and long tails. Less of an effect, more of a simulation.
Vienna instruments takes Chris’s philosophy into plugin form, where you can load up a room, and place various instruments into the rooms wherever you want. Using convolution, each instrument (location) then reacts to the room in a unique way, simulating how a group of instruments would sound in the room. This takes it a step further than sending everything thru the same aux channel. And it’s surround sound compatible.
I used to have to manually re-align drummagog triggered tracks after printing them, since none of the drum replacement stuff is sample accurate yet.
for some reason I can’t quite figure out, drums seem to be an area I prefer a real room or chamber if possible and appropriate, but vocals I usually prefer artificial verb.
the current superior drummer has some great clear airy ambience from the killer Galaxy Studio, in surround! I still think bfd3 has more realistic/nuanced sampling despite its age, but fear bfd 4 may never get developed.
I think it’s important to know about what your software does, and the more I dig into it the more I realize just how much is going on. It’s a miracle really that digital audio even works. But it’s not all created equally.
I think it’s more than just an academic endeavor to really understand the limits of the software. Like what pluggins alias and how badly, what sort of gremlins is your daws automation causing, how does your automation change with your buffer rate (eye opening problem in some daws), how does your pluggin frequency response change with session sample rate, online vs offline bouncing…
being on hiatus with my stuff all boxed up has allowed me to learn that much of what I took for granted, wasn’t quite right. I think this might be one of the sources of things not coming together as quickly sometimes in digital, as the problems may not be as obvious as they might be in analog.
you add that one more compressor that aliases and suddenly aliasing becomes noticeable but not obviously audible. Or your automation changes and things don’t feel right anymore, when you increased your session buffer size to put in that compressor. Lol.
Great info, Kyle! This is the kind of direction along with spectral editing is what I look forward to most with digital audio advancements. 👍🏼
Being able to remove all the accumulated stuff that effects sound from blending together then adding space that fits the focus of a song is a dream come true for me.
This kind of technology will allow more musicians and studios to be able to work better together. Musicians will be able to create their music in any room much better. Talent becoming less restricted or discarded because it can’t be used due to a crappy sounding room.
Agreed Chris. I felt 2015 or so was a turning point, and currently things are quite good. There’s even some services now that let you remotely control outboard gear from a pluggin interface, and the audio runs thru the actual hardware. The control and accessibility we have is unprecedented.